Divine Australia

I don’t have spiritual experiences often.  As a fellow without a religion and not much spirituality (in contrast to my devout Catholic wife- and no, we’ve never quarrelled about faith), this comes as no surprise.  So imagine my shock when my tour bus rounds the corner, and there is a massive rock sitting in the middle of nowhere, and I feel this definite stirring.  Profound is closest I can come to describing it, and people who are religious with whom I have discussed the experience agree it sounds like a spiritual one.  OK, fine.  My first trip to Australia.

Alcohol Tourism - Uluru

Since then, I have returned three times- twice with my now-wife.  The word pilgrimage comes to mind to describe my journeys to Oz, as they do hold a significant meaning in my heart, but my trips are not exactly spiritual in nature (are they?  Maybe one of you with more spirit can help me on this one).  Once Susan and I had been dating for a while, and I thought she was pretty cool, I decided she needed to see the big rock in the middle of the desert (Uluru, which means gathering place in a local Aboriginal dialect) before I could propose to her.  When we came back from our first trip together- most of which was spent in Tasmania- I felt like this.

Of course everyone wants to know “Why Australia?”  I could list all its qualities, but it doesn’t capture the essence of why, and fundamentally many places in the Alcohol Tourism - Cascade Breweryworld (like New Zealand) offer similar qualities without all native fauna wanting to kill you.  Imagine the first car you loved (not the crappy one you had to drive when you were a teenager)- how fun it was to zip around in, how many memories you had in it, how many great trips you took with it.  But of course you put miles on it, and eventually had to sell it (or maybe you crashed it).  So you get your next car, which is pretty sweet, but it’s not like the first one.  Now imagine if I told you you could have your first car, again and again.  That’s what going back to Australia is like for me.

We will be leaving for Tasmania and the Great Ocean Road this week.  This trip will be our first one back to Oz since we discovered alcohol tourism, and I expect the experience to be even better.  The craft beer revolution has happened relatively recently in Australia, and there are wineries in Tassie which we love, most of which we hope to see again (mmmm, elderflower wine).  We’re both excited, looking forward to revisiting some of our old haunts, discovering new ones, and trying out many delicious drinks along the way.  I hope you join us as we post from Oz!
-Erik & Susan

Alcohol Tourism - Tassie

Visit Your Region of the US Without Leaving Your Home Town

“Hi,” Susan said, pleasantly swaying gently from side to side.

“What the… what have you been up to?” I ask her, perplexed at how she came to this state.  She scowls and points a finger accusingly, “This is YOUR fault!  YOU told me to take pictures of Southeast breweries for our blog and I did.  But it wouldn’t have been polite to not drink what they offered, so I did!”Alcohol Tourism - Lazy Magnolia

We were at the 18th annual Classic City Brewfest and our third.  Athens’ Classic City Brewfest is organized by Owen Ogletree, and the event benefits Athens Area Humane Society.  At the brewfest, brewpubs and breweries from all over- including most of the Southeast- present their beers for tasting and enjoyment by Athens locals and visitors.  Brewfests are a fantastic opportunity to experience a bit of local flavor from your part of the US without having to leave your town.  In addition to beer, CCBF featured several ciders and one mead from Redstone Meadery.Alcohol Tourism - Moon River

Brewers regularly bring their most interesting and experimental concoctions to brewfests.  At this year’s CCBF, Moon River brewing from Savannah had a lavender stout in the cask ale pavilion.  Moon River representatives said lavender was added to the cask, and was still soaking as it was being dispensed.  Jailhouse Brewing from Hampton GA had a barrel-aged version of their Breakout Stout, which was not commercially available.  In experiencing all of these beers, local flavor of each brewery’s community could be felt.

Susan had tried many- or most- of the beers from the Southeast.  Her conclusion is they were largely pleasant, but with a potential for vengence.  This reminds me of how I feel about southerners.  She learned that pacing with water is essential at a brewfest, and tomorrow may not go well if you sample all the amazing deliciousness the Southeast has to offer.

6 Surprising Things About Alcohol Touring in London

I have a confession.  I am an introvert.  As a traveler, that Alcohol Tourism - London Kegscreates some problems for me- my default is to not go out, not talk to strange people, and avoid crowds.  Fortunately, I have had a companion for the past 7 years who has helped me venture forth when we journey.  My trip to London last week was done alone, and it was scarier than I remember single travel being.  But I persevered to bring you, good reader, a drinker’s tour of downtown London.

1) Beer/Cider/Wine is Cheap

What?  This man has lost his damn mind, you must be thinking.  But hear me out.  I typically pay $6-8 for a pint of decent craft beer in a large American city (Atlanta, LA, etc.).  An American pint, which usually weigh in at 12 oz.  I could get a FULL pint (16 oz) of good beer in London for between 3 and 4 pounds.  Now, if you’re converting your American dollars to pounds, that’s not too great of a deal.  But if you are LIVING in England and earning pounds sterling with your hard work, then this is an outright steal.  Liquor, however, was about as expensive as it is in American cities.  I believe this is because taxation rates are based on alcohol concentration- liquor will have a higher tax rate than a 4-5% beer or cider.  Even wine comes off fairly cheap at 12-15 pounds a bottle at a pub.  When was the last time you paid less than $20 for a bottle of wine at a restaurant?

2) Cider is EverywhereAlcohol Tourism - Cider Tap

The southeast of England, of which London is central, produces a lot of apples.  Many of those apples aren’t in prime condition for selling, so instead they get turned into cider.  Every pub had at least one cider on tap, and I found my first cider-only pub in the world at The Cider Tap.  They had amazing variety- sparkling, still, dry through sweet- enough for you to entertain yourself on cider tasting all day long.  Unfortunately, the cider is ultimately not interesting or complex, particularly compared to American craft cider.

3) The Beer is UninterestingAlcohol Tourism - London Pub

I was tempted to say the beer is not good, but that’s not it.  The beer is fine… for a typical bitter or even APA.  But that’s it- the styles are so banal you would think they were cooked up by Budweiser.  Which, actually, is probably the problem- Londoners’ palates are so wrecked by the dominance of light lagers that they apparently aren’t interested in complex, flavourful beer. Every cask ale I drank at pubs and brewpub and brewery I visited were normal and boring for the style.  I expected more from a large, vibrant, international city.

4) The Beer is Uniformly HoppyAlcohol Tourism - London Fields

What’s the problem, you may be thinking.  As someone who can appreciate hops but is not all starry-eyed about them, this is a problem.  At London Field’s Brewery, they gave us a sample of porter and said, “If you think that’s sweet, you should try the stout!”  Neither was even malty, much less sweet.  And both the porter and stout were over hopped for the style.  As England’s southeast grows apples, they grow hops.  Which means, for centuries, Londoners have been able to experience fresh hops, and their palates have adapted.  See the problem they have with lagers, above, and you can understand how they are accustomed to only hoppy styles.  I tried to find a malt-forward style (heck, even a malt-balanced style) the whole time I was there and failed.

5) The Locals Are There to Drink

I had a chance to speak with the head brewer at Brew Wharf, and he said he was excited to even see people drinking his beer.  Apparently, Londoners are not particularly discerning regarding their beer- they seem to drink light lagers right along with local craft drinks, without any preference.  It seems that locals drink to socialize more than experience drink itself.  Which is fine but, again, surprising in a cosmopolitan city.

6) London is Scary

I don’t mean physical-safety scary.  I mean, for an introvert, the pubs were daunting as hell.  I walked into Brew Wharf and witnessed this wall of people in the bar, but almost no one sitting in the restaurant 10 feet away.  I actually asked the bartender if it was all right to drink and eat at a table in the restaurant and he looked at me as if I was daft.  London Field’s Brewery had only 20-30 people in the tap room, but there was no sound baffling and everyone was talking at once, raising the volume to impossible-to-hear-what-our-beer-guide-was-saying levels.  Every single pub I walked in to- even on a weeknight- was packed.  Completely packed.  So packed I couldn’t even make it to the bar to put an order in, much less find a place to sit and enjoy my drink.  For someone who loves English countries partly for cozy, quiet pubs, it was a disappointment.Alcohol Tourism - London Pub

So what did I learn?  I discovered that not all cities- even internationally cultured ones in Anglosphere countries- have evolved to appreciate alcohol as we do in the US.  I confirmed that Australia is freaking expensive, since I pay way more for a pint of beer in little Hobart, Tasmania than I do in downtown London.  And I learned one reason why I like to have Susan along.  To co-opt a quote from the newest Middle-Earth-located movie, “Perhaps it is because I am afraid, and she gives me courage.”

Alcohol Tourism - London Walking Route

Alcohol Tourism is the Way To Go

Time: 10:00am, Wednesday, May 12th, 2010Alcohol Tourism - Black Horse Pub, Clarksville TN
Place: Clarksville, TN
Dilemma: Where go to next.

Susan and I are taking our first major trip within the United States: driving from Georgia to Colorado and back again.  There’s a lot of distance between those two locales (we did 4174 miles) and plenty to see.  We could check out the middle of the United States near Lebanon, KS.  There’s always the Heavener Runestone– supposedly a viking carving dating from before 1492 (which we actually did- entirely by serendipity).  But we’re not big ‘tourist’ folks in the traditional sense.  We generally don’t enjoy a lot of typical tourist activities, and prefer to chart our own course.  As many travellers have discovered, to get a properly good sense of a place, you need to experience its food… or drink.

From Clarksville, we look for a destination in a general westerly direction between 5 and 8 hours away.  Then we go to Google maps and type in ‘brewpub’, ‘winery’, and/or ‘distillery’, depending on our mood.  From there, it is simplicity itself: set course (off the Interstate) and drive!

Alcohol Tourism - TN to MO

This gives us a clear destination and an activity (beer tasting!) once we arrive.  Without a goal or destination, trying to avoid touristy things can get overwhelming: how do you know what’s authentic without actually knowing locals, and without spending way too much money?  Waypoints are easy- a lunch at a brewpub halfway to the next destination works perfectly.  An afternoon stop at a winery breaks up the monotony of your drive.

Alcohol tourism helps to solve the problem of where to stay.  Look for a place within walking distance so you don’t have to temper your alcohol consumption as you would have to if you had to drive after dinner.  A destination, activities on the way, a guide for where to sleep, and a great way to get a local feel, since most brewpubs and wineries are small, locally-owned operations.  Definitely our way to travel.

Time: 9:00pm, Wednesday, May 12th, 2010
Place: Springfield, MO
Dilemma: Do I want a pint of Springfield Brewing Company’s unfiltered wheat or their incredible bock?

Alcohol Tourism - Wheat BeerAlcohol Tourism - Susan Bock

In The Beginning…

“What do you want to do when we’re in Australia?” I asked my girlfriend at the time.  Characteristically, Susan replied, “I dunno.”  She is notoriously unhelpful in expressing strong opinions about much (except Humvees- ask her if you ever meet her).  Tasmania, where we would spend 2 of our 3 weeks Down Under, has, among incredible scenery, terrific people, and a remote location, glorious waterfalls and wineries.  “How about waterfalls and wineries?”  “Perfect.”WilmotWinery

Tasmania, at the time, was home to dozens of wineries, mostly small operations.  Tasmania also has a bounty of beautiful waterfalls, most of them with relatively short hikes from a car park.  Susan and I rented a car and drove from waterfall to winery to waterfall to winery to… and continued around the island being led by this premise.  So alcohol tourism for us was born.

Susan and I enjoy travelling in the US as well as outside of it.  Colorado is a beautiful state, and one where I had spent some time.  For our first in-US trip, it became our destination.  The problem becomes: what do we do for the 5 days or so it will take to get there?  And, once there, obviously there’s beautiful hiking, but we don’t typically do touristy-type packages.  So, having been interested and involved in beer for some time, we decided to use brewpubs and breweries to guide our path from Georgia to Colorado and back again.  Some wineries and cider-making centers rounded out our trip, allowing us to hop from alcohol-destination to alcohol-destination, and providing purpose and structure to the entire trip.  Since this worked out brilliantly, we decided that alcohol tourism would be our preferred method of travel!